Tribes play defense as Casino War escalates

Table game dealers at one of the world’s largest casinos broke long-standing precedent on November 24th by voting to bring federally-regulated collective bargaining onto a tribal reservation. In what is believed to be the first National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election at a tribal casino, employees of Foxwoods Resort and Casino, owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, voted by a wide-margin to be represented by the United Auto Workers union.

The Tribe argued throughout the six-month union campaign that its tribal sovereignty prevents the National Labor Relations Board from asserting jurisdiction over the on-reservation casino. With the union’s success on November 24th, the Tribe will have to take its jurisdiction argument to the courts, an act that ultimately may lead to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Less than one year ago, tribal casinos were fairly insulated from union organizing efforts based on the widespread assumption that tribal sovereignty precluded applying the National Labor Relations Act to tribes. This assumption dissolved last February, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Act applied to an on-reservation Indian casino operated by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

In the San Manuel case, the tribe relied primarily on the long-held understanding that applying the National Labor Relations Act to its casino would violate federal Indian law by impinging upon its protected tribal sovereignty. The tribe buttressed this claim with evidence that revenues from the casino were used to fund tribal government programs and to provide for the general welfare of tribal members; the casino was operated pursuant to the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act; and the tribe already had exercised its sovereignty in this area by enacting a tribal labor ordinance to govern relations with casino employees. Several unusual facts were working against the tribe in this particular case, however, most notably that the tribe had either encouraged or allowed a union the tribe perceived to be more cooperative to communicate with casino employees while attempting to deny similar access to a competing union perceived to be more adversarial.

Against this somewhat anomalous background, the court held that while application of the National Labor Relations Act to employment at the casino might impinge on certain governmental activities, any impairment of tribal sovereignty in this context was negligible. The court stated that operation of a casino is not a traditional attribute of tribal self-government; in fact, the tribe’s governmental activities related to the casino were merely enacted to carry out a primarily commercial activity. Additionally, the vast majority of the casino’s employees and customers were not members of the tribe and lived off-reservation.

The court also held that the National Labor Relations Act applied because the tribe did not fall within the Act’s exception for employers who are "any State or political subdivision thereof."

Impact On Tribal Casinos And Recommendations

The full impact of the November 24th vote at Foxwoods remains to be seen, however, it is quite likely that unions, with an eye on the tribal gaming industry’s 670,000 employees and estimated annual revenues of $25.7 billion, will take the vote as a cue to expand their organizing efforts to tribal casinos nationwide. The UAW and other unions are already looking to organize more of Foxwoods’ 10,000 employees, and the NLRB has scheduled a Board election for December 20, 2007, at the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe’s Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort where the Teamsters union is targeting housekeeping employees.

Without conceding that such laws apply, but simply to prepare to resist possible unionizing efforts until a definitive ruling is issued by the U.S. Supreme Court, tribal employers must become familiar with federal labor law, in particular, the National Labor Relations Act.

Tribal casinos can best defeat unionizing efforts by heading them off before they begin, rather than attempting to defend against an already active campaign. In many cases, tribal employers have the advantage of being able to provide wages and benefits as good as (and frequently better than) those available in the surrounding labor market. Becoming or remaining the "employer of choice" is the most effective defense against union organizing. Implementation of a fair and accessible grievance process, encouraging direct communication between management and employees, and giving employees opportunities to participate in workplace consensus-building and workplace decision-making also serve as effective deterrents to union organizing and often align with traditions of tribal sovereignty and decision-making.

Various other actions are recommended to control the employment environment prior to and during a unionizing campaign, including enacting tribal labor ordinances and workplace policies regarding non-solicitation, employee evaluations, and apparel; training supervisors to identify and respond to nascent union organizing efforts; and organizing employee information sessions to educate employees about the true facts and implications of working in a unionized environment. Due to the complicated nature of federal labor law, it is recommended that these initiatives be reviewed in detail with an experienced management-side labor law firm that also has Indian law expertise.

How Dorsey Can Help

Dorsey attorneys, in anticipation of union organizing efforts at tribal casinos, have been actively advising tribal business entities on labor and employment matters. Recently, Dorsey attorneys conducted a day-long training seminar on union avoidance and related issues for tribal employers in Central and Northern Minnesota (as well as Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan).


Nurses surging across Bay Area picket lines

More picketing and rallies happened Friday on the second day of a nurses strike at 13 Sutter Health hospitals in the Bay Area — including Mills-Peninsula in Burlingame and San Mateo.

The strike began 7 a.m. Thursday and will end Saturday morning. Some hospitals have hired replacement workers who will work through Monday. A similar two-day strike was held in October.

Sutter Health claims “impressive numbers” of nurses showed up for work Thursday morning despite the strike.

As many as 66 percent worked at Sutter’s Santa Rosa facility and 62 percent at the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center’s three campuses in Berkeley and Oakland, Sutter Health said in an e-mail. At other facilities, between 18 and 50 percent of nurses crossed the picket lines, Sutter Health said.

Around 60 percent of the nurses crossed the picket lines today at the Alta Bates Summit campuses, said Carolyn Kemp, a spokeswoman for Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.

Kemp said 5,000 nurses at the 13 facilities are eligible to strike but not all have. She said in October, 47 percent of the nurses went to work.

Liz Jacobs, spokeswoman for the California Nurses Organization, disputed Sutter Health’s figures.

“For the most part, 95 percent honored the picket line in October. It’s the same or better across the board now,” she said.

The nurses are striking to protest what they consider serious patient care issues including safe staffing at all times even during rest and meal breaks, Sutter’s attempt to close three community hospitals in the Bay Area that serve a patient population that is poorer and composed of more people of color than other Sutter hospitals, and medical benefits and pension improvements.

Sutter Health officials say the nurses’ union wants one master contract for all Sutter hospitals so it will be easier for nurses to join the union. The nurses union negotiates separately with the Sutter Health facilities. No contract talks are scheduled.


Indianapolis thugs in PLA 'labor-peace' extortion

A City-County Council resolution prohibiting any labor union-led work stoppages at a convention headquarters hotel project Downtown has raised concerns that the last-minute change could kill the deal.

The resolution, which will be considered at Monday's council meeting, would require that the $325 million JW Marriott project have a "labor peace agreement" before the city issues $66 million in bonds to get the development off the ground.

The city's Bond Bank committed to the financing -- which includes $48 million in tax incentives -- in May but has not reached a final agreement with the developers.
The resolution says the city's investment would be threatened if a labor dispute, boycott or strike were to occur at the hotel.

Under the agreement, labor groups would pledge not to picket or to stage work stoppages, boycotts or "any other economic interference" with the hotel for at least the first five years of its operation.

The agreement would not require or compel hotel employees to be members of any labor organization. Opponents, however, say entering the agreement would open the door for organizing by a union.

"There's a lot at stake here," said Councilman Phil Borst, the GOP minority leader. "This would be a deal-stopper. We promised that hotel, and losing it could cost us convention business, the Final Four and our Super Bowl aspirations."

The developers, REI Real Estate Services of Carmel and Merrillville-based White Lodging, increased the project's size at the city's request. It would be the largest hotel in Indianapolis, with 1,000 rooms and enough meeting space to simultaneously host two large conventions. Three sister hotels would have 568 rooms.

A similar attempt to require a labor peace agreement failed in May, but the project's supporters said this attempt could derail negotiations. Neither developer could be reached Friday.

Borst said he told Mike Wells, president of REI, that a labor agreement should be a matter left to the company and its employees -- not the government. He said it would be unfair to make last-minute changes to a deal on which the council has already signed off.

But Councilwoman Joanne Sanders, a Democrat sponsoring the proposal, told the council's Rules Committee earlier this month that the resolution is simply meant to protect the city's investment. She said the agreement would ensure that construction wouldn't be interrupted by labor disagreements.

John Livengood, president of the Indiana Hotel & Lodging Association, disagreed.
He said the Dec. 3 resolution flew under the radar until this week because hotel interests didn't realize the effect it could have. He said the resolution's language nearly guarantees unionization.

"What employer would want their relationship with workers dictated by the city?" he asked.

Livengood also raised questions about the sponsoring council members' connections to Unite Here, a labor union that represents about 450,000 hotel and clothing industry workers.

He said the two Democratic sponsors, Sanders and Dane Mahern, joined hotel workers demanding union recognition at the Westin Hotel this year. Sanders works for another union.

"It raises questions about conflict of interest," Livengood said. "It's interesting that (Councilman) Bob Cockrum recused himself because his son works for the developer, but the others are pushing this."

Unite Here paid for TV commercials, rare in council races, for Mahern during the fall campaign.

The union also gave a Republican sponsor, Lincoln Plowman, $5,000 in campaign contributions, though he did not have an opponent.

Sanders and Mahern could not be reached for comment.

Plowman denied that the resolution had anything to do with support he received during the campaign. He said he has always supported the working men and women of Marion County.

"If I have to give $66 million in taxpayer money, we should have some say to make sure there is labor peace," Plowman said. "It's not saying there has to be a union."
Antony Dugdale, a spokesman for Unite Here, said concerns about the resolution were overblown.

"My experience is that it has not been a deal killer in other places," he said.
If the council passes the resolution, Mayor Bart Peterson, who worked with developers to put together the hotel deal, will have 10 days to sign the measure or it will not go into effect. He also could veto it. Administration officials did not respond to calls for comment Friday.

What: A 29-story tower with 1,000 rooms -- the largest hotel in the city -- 50 percent more meeting and exhibit space than first planned, and 1,000 indoor parking spots. Two dozen condos will occupy the top four floors, and 200 of the hotel rooms will be more upscale and tailored to corporate travelers, who will have their own elevators. Three smaller hotels with 568 rooms will be built next door.

Where: At West and Washington streets.

Cost: $325 million.

Who's developing it: REI Real Estate Services and White Lodging.

What the city is kicking in: At least $48 million in tax incentives.

When it will open: 2010.

How many jobs: About 1,000.

-- Source: Star archives


An excerpt:

"Whereas the city's investment would be threatened if a labor dispute, boycott, or strike were to occur ... and whereas language to prevent labor disputes has been secured covering similar convention hotels (in other cities) ... no bonds shall be issued pursuant to this resolution unless ... the project is subject to an enforceable labor peace agreement with the labor organization most active in representing and seeking to represent hotel workers in Indiana. The labor peace agreement must be a valid agreement which prohibits the labor organization and its members from engaging in any picketing, work stoppages, boycotts, or any other economic interference with the hotel for at least the first five years of the hotel's operation.

"The labor peace agreement shall not include any provision that would require or compel an employee to be a member of any labor organization."


UFCW organizers want collective bargaining for themselves

If unions are so damn good, why aren't all union organizers already unionized? Wait a minute! You mean they're not???

Apparently, Joe Hansen and his cronies at the UFCW have even more egg on their face because their NON-UNION union organizers want to unionize!

On November 27th, the General Organizers Association (a labor union in Monroe, Ohio) filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board's Baltimore office to hold an election in order to represent the union organizers employed by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) out of Washington, DC.

Note The only Labor-Management (LM) report the Department of Labor has on the General Organizers Association can be viewed here (pdf).

Upon seeing this, several questions come to mind:

1. Will Joe Hansen and his fellow union bosses over at the UFCW conduct a card-check and invite the union in without these workers voting on it? OR...

2. Even though the UFCW wants to do away with secret-ballot elections, will the UFCW allow their union organizer-employees the luxury of voting in a secret-ballot election? AND...

3. If there is a secret-ballot election, will the UFCW bosses conduct an "anti-union campaign," just like they accuse corporations of doing?


We'll just have to wait and see if the two-faced UFCW's actions mirror their public stance on letting workers pick a union without a secret-ballot in this case.


Labor-state Gov's un-bargained union giveaway

Controversy over big pay raises to managers earlier this year prompted Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Friday to promise pay upgrades for some rank-and-file state workers in 2009-11.

Specifically, the state will eliminate the lowest pay grade and add to the top, costing an estimated $20 million in the next two-year budget. State officials estimate about 9,500 workers will become eligible for the new top step beginning July 1, 2009.

The increases will be in addition to any cost-of-living increases and other benefits the unions negotiate with the state in two years.

Public union members, some of whom had snubbed Kulongoski at a convention in October, praised the move.

This is "a win for the governor's office and a win for us," said Ken Allen, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "It's a guarantee of a wage increase in the future."

Catherine Stearns, a Service Employees International Union bargaining representative for the Department of Human Services, said: "Membership is happy."

Kulongoski, a former labor lawyer, has received financial and campaign support from unions over his two terms.

AFSCME members rejected an agreement reached with the state this fall when they learned managers and directors were getting pay raises of 11 percent to 24 percent for 2007-09. In contrast, union members would receive a little more than 6 percent in cost-of-living increases over the same period.

"It certainly didn't feel good," said Stearns. "It's a parity issue. We work just as hard as they (managers) do."

The tentative agreement reached with certain units of AFSCME Thursday night doesn't affect the current budget. The pay increase will be extended to more than 26,000 state employees who belong to other unions and AFSCME units.

"It's very much in line with the governor's concerns with recruitment and retention," said Kulongoski spokeswoman Patty Wentz.

But legislators who set the state budget bristled slightly at the implications the governor's promise will have on their spending decisions.

Sen. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby and co-chairman of the committee that sets the budget, said state workers don't get paid a whole lot, but the automatic increase means other programs might lose out.

"I think Santa Claus has come early," he said.

House Minority Leader Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, said he still hasn't received data showing the state needed to give agency directors double-digit pay increases to keep them from leaving.

"Look, I'm not going to shoot darts at somebody who makes a decision," he said, "if the data is there to show it is reasonable."


SEIU organizers rejected by 3 of 4 bargaining units

One bargaining unit of non-supervisory staff at Community Regional Medical Center in Lorain (OH) voted Thursday to join the Service Employees International Union, while three other units did not. The results of the fifth unit's balloting are being challenged by the National Labor Relations Board, which supervised the voting.

Representatives of the hospital and the SEIU both said they were satisfied with the outcome of Thursday's vote, with ballots cast by about 527 of the 868 eligible workers.

The three bargaining units that decided against union representation are the professional, technical and business clerical units, according to Jennifer Kennedy, hospital spokeswoman. Only the skilled maintenance workers opted for SEIU membership, she said. The skilled maintenance unit includes 16 workers, such as plumbers and electricians, according to Kennedy.

The National Labor Relations Board raised challenges to the eligibility of some ballots cast by the non-professional bargaining unit, which has about 400 members, Kennedy said. A spokesman for the NLRB could not be reached yesterday.

Eligibility could be affected by date of hire, a clerical error possibly omitting someone from the voting list, or a supervisor voting, Kennedy said. She did not know the specific circumstances of the NLRB's challenges, or how long they would take to resolve.

Joyce Moscato, a spokeswoman for the SEIU, said the voting, with a significant majority of eligible workers taking part, worked out well.

"The important thing is that employees in the hospital were able to decide for themselves, without pressure from either side," Moscato said. "We wanted it to happen in a neutral environment, so workers could have a positive experience."

SEIU representatives would start working with skilled maintenance workers in January to begin bargaining for a contract with Community Health Partners, Moscato said. She said she hoped the voting process, without tension or conflict, could become a model for other large employers.

"It's the right thing to do," she said.

Kennedy agreed that the voting produced a positive outcome.

"We're really happy with the process," she said. "Our employees had the opportunity to be in an NLRB-supervised election, and the quality of our care wasn't affected."


Dems put union officials over 'working people'

Democrats on Thursday attacked the Bush administration's majority on the National Labor Relations Board as anti-union.

"I don't think I have ever seen a labor board so tilted against working people and more in favor of employers than this board in 28 years," said Rep. Phil Hare, D-Ill., at a joint House-Senate subcommittee hearing on the board's recent decisions.

But board chairman Robert Battista called the complaints the byproducts of the beginning of election season.

"The polemics of certain groups against recent decisions of the board are nothing more than special interest attacks designed to gain support for their position in the coming election cycle," said Battista, who was appointed by President Bush.

Board member Wilma Liebman disagreed, telling lawmakers the deck is stacked against unionized workers at the NLRB.

"Today, fewer workers have fewer rights and weaker remedies under the National Labor Relations Act," said Liebman, who was appointed to the board by President Clinton. "Virtually every recent policy choice by the board impedes collective bargaining, creates obstacles to union representation or favors employer interests."

Unions have protested what they call anti-union decisions from the current National Labor Relations Board. They particularly point to 61 decisions the board made in September they say hurt unionized workers.

"Since its installation in 2002, the Bush administration's labor board has embarked on a systematic and insidious effort to radically overhaul our federal labor law and its regulation of labor relations in the private sector," AFL-CIO lawyer Jonathan Hiatt said.

One of the decisions cited allows employees who don't want to be unionized extra time to fight against a successful unionization drive.

The NLRB, in a 3-2 vote, said anti-union employees have 45 days to build support for a government-sponsored, company-wide vote that would kick the union back out. The time would be available to anti-union employees even if the company agreed to a card-check campaign, where union supporters ask for representation simply by signing cards.

Previous NLRB policy was that decertification petitions — which ask for a union to be kicked out of a workplace — were banned for a "reasonable" amount of time if a company voluntarily agreed to a card check process.

"This president has stacked the deck against workers on the National Labor Relations Board," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Battista said the board actually made 70 decisions in September, their busiest month. And Congress has amended the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, and the board has to follow the law, he said.

"Our critics lose sight of the fact that the statute was amended in 1947 by the Taft-Hartley Act to protect employees from not only employer interference but also union misconduct, and to give employees the equal right to refrain from union activities and representation," Battista said. "The board is obligated to enforce the law as enacted by Congress despite what any affected party may wish for, a return to 1935 or to some future legislative result."

Republicans called the entire affair a payback for big labor. Unions are a reliable source of support for Democrats, and are credited with helping them retake the House and Senate in the 2006 midterm elections.

"Make no mistake, union bosses are directing this assault on judicial independence, and the majority is willing to comply with their goals at the expense of judicial integrity," said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.


In labor-state, it's always about union dues

Black construction workers may someday erect a shrine to the incredible arrogance of Pat Gillespie.

It would be a place where future generations of minority building-trades unionists pay tribute to the man who opened more doors for minorities with his mouth than all of the inclusionary edicts and minority-apprenticeship programs ever devised.

Gillespie, who runs the Building and Construction Trades Council, landed on City Council's last nerve a week ago with his testimony at a hearing on minority inclusion in the Convention Center expansion project. His cavalier dismissal of Council members' concerns did more to unify them than a chance to vote themselves a pay raise.

In the process, he has exposed his members to the third rail of labor talks: the dreaded open shop. In this union town, the idea of an open shop, in which lucrative construction jobs are no longer the exclusive province of powerful unions, had been unheard of.

Until Gillespie treated Council like a class of unruly third-graders.

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown asked him what happened to the white construction worker accused of displaying a noose at the Comcast Tower construction site and to the black worker who complained about it.

"That really set people off," Councilman W. Wilson Goode recalled. "She asked what happened to that guy, if he was still working, and he said, 'Of course he's working. He's a skilled tradesman.'

"His response about the black worker was essentially that he has to get his own job.

"That made it easy for Council."

That, plus Gillespie's failure to say how many minorities are in his unions. People have been after those numbers for years, and the unions keep finding excuses for not finding the numbers.

Two years ago, James Nevels, then-chairman of the School Reform Commission, complained that the unions "haven't been forthcoming with numbers."

The district used its $1.5 billion construction budget to persuade the unions to enroll 425 school district grads by 2010. The unions claimed that 387 school district grads had been placed in the first year.

But in October, when I contacted Tony Wigglesworth - executive director of the Philadelphia Area Labor Management Committee and the guy who is supposed to monitor the unions' compliance - he said he had not sent verifying numbers to the district because he didn't know whom to send them to.

The most successful use of leverage by a city agency was the Philadelphia Housing Authority's agreement with the unions to place PHA residents in apprenticeships on some of the $1.3 billion PHA is spending on construction projects.

But in eight years, only half of the 506 PHA residents who were trained and passed apprenticeship tests are still on the job.

When you count the $700 million in projects from the Convention Center expansion, plus money spent for PHA, the school district and the stadiums, more than $4 billion in public money has been spent without producing any significant benefit for minority workers whose taxes finance jobs for people who don't live in this city.

It's about time Council or somebody started putting their muscle behind our money.

Gov. Rendell is convening a meeting Monday to try to avert Council's open-shop provision. It will mean adopting a set of verifiable goals and timetables enforced with real penalties.

"It's got to be real," state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams said. "We spent all that money on stadiums and didn't get one journeyman's position out of it. It's not going to happen like that this time."

Meanwhile, Mayor Street and Council are working separately to craft amendments with enough teeth to let Council adopt a project labor agreement without the open-shop provision.

"We could come up with something as early as today and vote on it tomorrow" Councilman Goode told me yesterday. "Or if the governor's plan gets to us first, we can vote on that amendment a week later."

Sen. Williams all but guaranteed success.

"We're going to come out of that room Monday with an agreement," he said. "This is not a black-or-white thing. It's about jobs for the local economy." *


Arizona Merits a 'B' in Worker Freedom

The Alliance for Worker Freedom has given Arizona a ‘B’ on its latest national report card on worker freedom.

An excerpt from the report card:
“With a minimum wage of $6.75, almost a dollar above the Federal level, Arizona is discouraging productivity by stagnating economic growth and hurting small businesses. This is further evident in their measure of entrepreneurial activity which scored below the national average.”
“AWF believes that free markets and free citizens is the best formula for workers,” the report says. The states that were graded ‘A’ are Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah.

The states that flunked this test are Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. I’m sure they’ll be grounded.


Striking nurses earn long-weekend lockout

Thousands of nurses walked off their jobs Thursday at 13 Bay Area hospitals, beginning a two-day strike.

The nurses picketed the hospitals and carried placards that called for safer staffing levels and "patients before profits."

The strike targets hospitals affiliated with Sutter Health. The hospital group brought in replacement workers to ensure they could continue operations.

It was business as usual, hospital officials said, with "babies being born, and people having surgery."

In San Mateo County, scores of nurses formed picket lines at Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame and Mills Health Center in San Mateo, both affiliates of Sutter Health. More than 650 nursesrepresented by the California Nurses Association work at the two facilities.

A hospital spokeswoman said nearly 40 percent of workers crossed the picket lines at the two Peninsula hospitals. But nurses on the picket lines called the figure "pie in the sky."

The nurses insisted that the hospital group's plan to lock out the nurses for three additional days after the strike ends Saturday is squeezing some nurses financially. That's why some crossed the picket line, even though they supported the strike, some nurses said.

Hospitals in the East Bay, including Alta Bates Summit Medical Center campuses in Berkeley and Oakland, also reported hundreds of nurses crossing the picket lines.

"We had a very good day, and things are going perfectly," said Margie O'Clair, spokeswoman for Mills-Peninsula Health Services, which operates Peninsula Medical Center and Mills Health Center. "About 40 percent of the nurses crossed the picket lines, and it made a big difference." O'Clair said 209 replacement nurses were brought in.

The strike is the second in two months by the nurses. The CNA and Sutter Health have not been able to reach a contract agreement in more than six months of negotiations. More than 95 percent of the Peninsula nurses walked out during the first strike.

Some people visiting loved ones and friends at Peninsula on Thursday said they had been concerned about the striking nurses and the level of care replacement nurses could give. But most said the care appeared good.

"It was a small concern, but not a big one, and the nurses were fine," said Vince Jones of Redwood City, whose wife had just given birth.

Felicity Oxendine of Brentwood, visiting a loved one with a "life-threatening injury," said the strike was "unnerving."

"It's odd that I have a loved one in surgery," she said, walking up to the hospital. "I hope it all goes well."

Nurses on the picket line continued to emphasize that the key issues are about safe staffing ratios, better patient-lifting and break policies for nurses, retirement security and health care benefits.

Wages, they say, are not an issue. Nurses with 20 years of experience earn between $50 and $56 per hour. New nurses earn about $40 per hour.

Most work three or four days a week. Several on the picket line said even that can be exhausting, given the pressures of lifting people and handling "life-and-death situations."

"We're lifting patients in and out of bed or putting them on the toilet all day," said Christine Picard, a 130-pound registered nurse from Half Moon Bay who works at Peninsula Medical Center. "I see nurses breaking down and getting injured."

Picard pointed out that an increasing number of patients are obese, weighing between 200 and 300 pounds. Lifting them causes back injuries for many nurses, she said. "There's not enough help for lifting."

But management officials maintain that the CNA has an agenda to grow membership. They insist CNA wants a green light to organize other Sutter Health hospitals without intrusion from Sutter — or any anti-union campaigns.

"We believe it's not about local issues, but CNA's agenda," said O'Clair. "We think nurses are getting that message, and that's why they're crossing the picket line."

But nurses walking the picket line outside the Burlingame hospital stressed that the strike was not about CNA growing membership.

"We're adults, and we don't have to strike because the CNA tells us," said Diana Koranteng of Millbrae, a nurse at Peninsula Medical Center. "This is about retirement, patient care, break relief and lift teams."

O'Clair and other Sutter officials believe they have offered the nurses a good contract, with a near-20 percent wage increase over four years and good benefits. The nurses say those health and retirement benefits are being eroded by inflation.

Lori Madsen of Burlingame, also a nurse at Peninsula, said the problem is Sutter.

"When the hospital was taken over by Sutter, it became a big business," said Madsen. "That's why we're having problems, and we can't settle this."


Dems want union officials to define workers' rights

Sen. Edward Kennedy did something Thursday, December 13, he had never done before in his 45 years in Congress. He chaired a House hearing.

Kennedy took the gavel at a joint session of the House and Senate labor committees when House members departed for a vote. His brief leadership of the hearing on recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board was more than a Capitol oddity.

It drove home the point that Democrats are upset with NLRB rulings they believe are curtailing unionization and collective bargaining. Among the witnesses Kennedy and his colleagues grilled was NLRB chairman Robert Battista.

Battista appeared before the committees just two days before his term expires. There is no word yet from the White House whether he or two other board members whose appointments will run out when Congress breaks for the holidays will be nominated again to serve.

But when they or their replacements are selected, they should be fully scrutinized by the Senate rather than slipped onto the NLRB through a recess appointment, said Rep. Robert Andrews, D-New Jersey and chairman of the House labor subcommittee hosting the hearing.

Andrews believes several September NLRB decisions reflected an ideological bent of the quasi-judicial agency’s three-Republican majority to limit unionization.

So Andrews invited his Senate colleagues to the hearing to demonstrate that NLRB positions should go through the regular Senate confirmation process.

“This should send a message to the administration—recess appointments are off limits,” Andrews said in an interview after the hearing. “Recess appointments would subvert the role of the Congress.”

The focus of the hearing was several NLRB decisions in September, a month in which the board decided 70 cases. One that drew particularly strong Democratic ire involved Dana Corp.

The board ruled 3-2 that following union certification through a voluntary card-check process, employees have 45 days to file a petition for a vote on decertification. The vote would occur if 30 percent of workers back it.

Union advocates say the decision undermines voluntary recognition of unions and is one of many indications that the board majority is fundamentally anti-union.

“The board is notorious for its seesawing with every change of administration,” said Wilma Liebman, a Democratic member of the board. “But something different is going on—more ‘sea change’ than ‘seesaw.’ ”

She asserted that Republican appointees give more weight to business prerogatives and to the right of workers not to form a union than they do to supporting collective bargaining.

“It’s the first time the NLRB has ranked statutory priorities in that way,” she said. “In some ways, it seems, labor law has been turned inside out.”

Battista rejected the notion that the NLRB undermines unionization. He said that the agency has collected $110.3 million in back pay in the current fiscal year and has reinstated 2,456 employees. Over his five years as chairman, $604 million has been collected in back pay and 13,279 employees have been reinstated.

He also said 2,439 election petitions were filed in the last fiscal year and 1,559 elections conducted, with 93 percent being held within 56 days. Unions won 54 percent of the time.

Battista also said that during the course of his chairmanship, the NLRB backlog has been reduced from 621 to 207 cases. He denied that the September rush was unusual. In fact, the 70 cases decided this fall were the second fewest in the past five years.

He said the board does not take sides between workers and companies, but tries to ensure employees can freely choose or reject a union. If they embrace representation, the board “encourages collective bargaining,” he said.

“The law is neutral and so is this agency,” he said. “We’ve done a good job making the agency more productive and efficient. The vast bulk of our unfair labor disputes are dismissed or settled very early in the game.”

In response to criticism from a House Democrat, he said, “We may not be champions to the unions, but we’re certainly champions to the employee.”

Democrats took sharp exception. “This board has undermined collective bargaining at every turn,” Kennedy said.

He and other Democrats asserted that increasing the number of people in unions will foster higher wages and more generous benefits.

“The decline of the middle class in this country is the result of the decline of unions in this country,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. About 12 percent of U.S. workers are part of a union.

Republicans, however, criticized the Democratic majority for holding the hearing because it encroached on the judicial branch of government. They also implied that the meeting served to amplify union attacks on the board.

“Today’s hearing is little more than hollow political theater,” said Rep. John Kline, R-Minnesota.

It’s too early to tell whether Democrats will draft legislation to overturn recent NLRB decisions.

“I would want to reserve judgment on that,” Andrews said.


Labor cred questioned over Right To Work

As former North Carolina Senator John Edwards' stock in the Democratic primary continues to languish in third place in Iowa, most would think the leading candidates would be better served by touting their own credentials instead of questioning his. Barack Obama, Illinois senator and slowly gaining ground on Hillary Clinton however, chose to question the legitimacy of labor union endorsements of Edwards.

If bad weather in Iowa forcing the cancellation of three primary events wasn't enough for the Edwards' campaign, Obama pulled out some of Edwards' votes during his short tenure as a Senator and noted that his aggressive campaigning for labor endorsements may be questionable, considering those votes. The mailer that went out to Iowans, showed how Edwards voted on issues such as a federal right to work law, while claiming to be a strong supporter of labor unions.

Obama's mailer also points out how Edwards voted to allow China into the World trade Organization, a move that goes against union wishes. Yet, according to Obama's mail piece, Edwards went after the unions seeking, and receiving many of their endorsements. The mailer is just another attack Edwards has had to face as many other candidates have made light of his personal financial status as well as the amount of money he spends on personal care.

According to polls at usaelectionpolls.com, Edwards has the backing of 14 percent of probable voters while Clinton and Obama have a total of 70 percent on the national level. In Iowa, he the gap is slightly less with Edwards at 18 percent and the top two candidates with a combined 64 percent.

For the month of December, John Edwards is at 26% in North Carolina, 22% in Iowa, 16% in California, and 15.6% in New Hampshire.

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